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Now, from Sara…
Last Tuesday, I shared about my search my “dream Algebra curriculum”…
Enter A+TUTORSOFT INTERACTIVE ALGEBRA I ( www.aplustutorsoft.com ). Produced by a new company which worked with homeschoolers for five years in the development of this, this moderately priced ($49.99) one-CD curriculum includes many of the features of my dream curriculum:
- multimedia lessons,
- interactive questions following each lesson,
- homework assignments with full solutions,
- Chapter Tests and Chapter Exams,
- and a calculator available at a click, to boot!
This course teaches all the usual Algebra I topics, beginning with The Basics and ending with Radical Expressions and Triangles. Student work includes the interactive questions following each multimedia lesson, “Practice Work Area” following each “Curriculum Book” lesson, and Worksheets for each lesson.
The Chapter Tests cover the current unit and have an answer key. The Chapter Exams seem to be cumulative and include both an answer key and a solutions manual. The lessons are available in “book” form, for those students who need to read quietly and ponder new concepts at their own speed, and in “multimedia” form, for audio and visual learners. Since the “book” lessons may include some material not shown in the multimedia presentations, and the multimedia presentation is better at ‘showing’ the concept, both should be used.
Interactive Algebra has the potential to become my dream curriculum, but it isn’t there yet. Here are my reasons:
1) The “why” isn’t always presented as clearly as it could be when a concept is introduced. For many students, really understanding a concept only comes after the student knows why it is true.
2) In some cases there are only a few interactive problems following the multimedia lessons, and some of those are examples used in the lesson. A student may remember the right answer without remembering how to arrive at that answer himself.
3) Some notations seem odd compared to other algebra curricula. For example, at times the course uses “sqrt(x)” rather than the more common radical sign. Often, too, the forward slash ( / ) is used as a division bar instead of the customary form . Certain fractions, especially those with variables and exponents, are not as easy to read when the forward slash is used. Also, at times “ >= or <= ” are used to indicate > or <, which is more common in algebra textbooks.
4) The voices giving the instruction in the Multimedia presentations have a metallic, “tinny” and sometimes “lispy” sound to them. The words are understandable, but the quality of the sound is less than excellent. Additionally, the instruction is very obviously scripted and does not sound ‘natural’ or conversational; my son describes one instructor’s speech as ‘robotic’. For students who dislike math already (and there are plenty out there!), the voices could grate on their nerves after a while.
5) The technology used in the multimedia lessons is not the best to use for math instruction, in my opinion. The multimedia screen seems similar to a Powerpoint presentation, which does not allow the instructor to actually do the sample problems for the students. The problems are definitely explained, and the results of the successive steps are shown, but the doing is missing. (This technology, however, works very well with the coordinate graphing lessons.) The instructor’s words are often shown on the multimedia screen. I’ve viewed many, many online algebra videos (from youtube and other sources), both high-tech and the very simple hand-writing-on-paper camera shot, and I think that in the most effective ones, the words the student hears match the actions taking place on the ‘board’. With the multimedia lessons, in some cases, the student hears words AND sees words, not actions.
6) Finally, especially for students who are able to work independently and whose parents encourage this, there is a serious flaw in where the answer keys are placed in relation to the worksheets and tests: the answer keys follow the worksheets and tests immediately. For example, the exam for Unit 10 is five pages long; the answer key to the exam is on page 6! I spoke with the course designers at the CHAP Convention in May and asked them about this. They indicated they designed the course, trusting that the parent would print out only the test (or homework worksheet) itself, not the answer key. And, of course, that is what a parent would do. As long as a parent is working with her student on a daily basis, the location of the answer keys may not present a problem. However, even the most trustworthy independent learner may inadvertently see the answers, and without doubt, the location of the answer keys presents a temptation for dishonesty.
So the quest for my dream Algebra I curriculum must continue. I think A+TUTORSOFT INTERACTIVE ALGEBRA I has some good ideas they can build on and improve to come up with a very fine CD curriculum, and I wish this new company the very best as they serve the homeschool community.
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